Weeknight Dinner Staples

Grandma’s Crock-Pot Sloppy Joes

Sloppy JoesThere’s something nostalgic about sloppy joes. And if you know me at all, or have been following along here, you know that I’m a sap. Something about this sandwich brings me right back to sitting on the living room floor for a “picnic” with my sister.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Tomato Soup

tomato soupThat winter chill’s been hitting hard the past couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to channel scorching days from this summer when I never thought I could get any hotter. And even though temps are supposed to reach the 40s this week here in Buffalo (what?!), the otherwise constant presence of frigid temperatures only makes me want to stay in, curled up on the couch under a blanket with some hot soup. One of my favorites is a simple staple, tomato soup.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Korean Beef Bowls

Korean beef bowl
Last year, while in California for work, my boyfriend went to a Korean restaurant with some co-workers. He came home from the trip raving about some beef bowl he tried and how fresh it tasted.

Not familiar with Korean cuisine, I suggested that maybe we could find something similar at a restaurant here in Buffalo. He assured me there was no need for that; they’d be simple to make at home. My skepticism almost got the best of me, but as usual, he was right. Korean beef bowls have been in our dinner menu rotation since.

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Weeknight Dinner Staple: Crock-Pot Cacciatore

Crock-Pot Chicken CacciatoreTHIS ONE IS SO EASY, YOU GUYS. I know I say that every time I post a weeknight dinner recipe, but this time, I’m talking about Crock-Pot easy. Everyone will be so impressed by your chicken cacciatore, thinking you spent hours slaving away. In reality, prep takes about ten minutes, tops. Now, I’m the type of person who is baffled by the concept of spare time in the morning, so I get what you’re probably thinking. (I mean, those people who get up at 4am to exercise and do whatever else people do at 4am—are they even real? What are their lives?) But! Come on, you. I know you can squeeze in an extra ten minutes just this once to free up those precious evening hours.

And can we talk about chicken cacciatore for a sec? Yummmmm. So rustic and hearty. I tried the cacciatore at one of my favorite Italian restaurants not long ago, and that dish was comparable. Dare I say, this Crock-Pot one might even be better? 😁

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom. We ate it growing up for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure where she originally found it; I did a quick Google search and came up with a few similar recipes, but nothing exact. So, we’ll say this one came from my mom. And probably Taste of Home, or something.

I cook this amount for the two, and then we have lunch leftovers for days. This would feed four people easily.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 chicken breasts or thighs
  • 3-4 Italian sausage links, cut into half-inch pieces (I use hot, and it doesn’t come out spicy at all.)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 onion, also chopped into large chunks
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 24-ounce jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 pound spaghetti


DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients in Crock-Pot. Cook on low 8 hours, or high 4 hours*. Serve over spaghetti.
Told you it was easy!

*Adjust time for your Crock-Pot. Be wary of the ones that cook at really high temperatures. I can set mine on high for 2-3 hours, and this is cooked. Pretty much, you just don’t want to set it on high and leave the house for the day! Low is fine. If it’s too hot, the chicken will dry out and this dish will get runny. If it does get a bit watery, take the lid off for a while and let some of the liquid evaporate.

Even the dreaded cleanup is a breeze. You can do this one, people!

Weeknight Dinner Staple: Beer Chili

chiliAs the crisp Fall weather approaches, I’ve found myself starting to crave warm comfort foods once again. A favorite of mine is chili. Which pairs well with another favorite of mine, beer. Beer chili!

There are about a million chili recipes out there, all slightly different. The one I follow is adapted from a Food Network recipe that a friend shared with me a few years ago. I used to make a Crock Pot chili that was simple and pretty tasty too, but once I tried this version, there was no turning back. And don’t worry, even if you’re not a beer fan, you’ll still love this chili.

Fair warning, this is not a meal to be made on a rushed weeknight. The cooking part doesn’t take long, but you’ll need to allow time for it to simmer. I recommend making this one on the weekend, or whenever you have time to let it simmer for a couple hours, and then reheating it during the week. Pro tip: it’s even better left over.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound meatloaf mix*
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, optional (about half of a small container)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika**
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 cup beer (I recommend a lager for this recipe; I usually use Yuengling)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • Sour cream and cheddar, for topping
  • Side note: The original recipe calls for black and kidney beans. We’re not a fan of beans in our chili at this house, so I omit those. If you’d like to use them, the recipe calls for one 15-ounce can of each, drained and rinsed.

*Meatloaf mix is made up of ⅓ ground beef, ⅓ ground pork, and ⅓ ground veal. If your grocery store doesn’t sell this (check with the butcher), you can use any combo of the three or a higher grade meat. I used ground sirloin once (so good), and another time I used just ground veal.

**The smoked paprika is key! Delicious. If you can’t find it at the grocery store, try Trader Joe’s or TJMaxx!

DIRECTIONS

Heat canola oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot and slightly simmering, add garlic, onion, peppers, and spices (chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano). Season with salt and pepper. Cook vegetables, stirring often, until tender. Add the meat and break it up; cook until browned. Stir in the beer and mushrooms, then add all the tomatoes. Stir everything together, then turn the heat to low. Simmer on low for at least an hour and a half. When ready to eat, serve with freshly-grated cheddar cheese and sour cream on top, if you please. I always please.

Curl up on the couch and enjoy with a brew!

{Recipe adapted from Pat’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili}

Weeknight Dinner Staple: Shrimp Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce

shrimp tacosThis is the quickest recipe ever as far as cook time goes, I promise. Concocted by my boyfriend one night when we didn’t have a dinner idea, but wanted to use up stuff in the house, it’s been a weeknight staple for a while now.

Steve is a much better natural chef than I am. I’m not inventive with my cooking. I can knock a recipe out of the park (with plenty of exceptions, ha), but when it comes to pulling things together out of thin air, I’m no magician.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound raw, peeled, and deveined shrimp (fresh or frozen will do)
  • Salt
  • Soft taco tortillas (I’m sure hard shells would be great with this recipe too!)
  • Lettuce, shredded, for topping
  • Salsa, for topping
  • White rice, optional
  • Lime juice, optional
  • Dash of cilantro, optional

For marinade:

For chipotle cream sauce:

  • 5-oz. container Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Adobo sauce*
  • Fresh lime juice from half a lime
  • Dash of cumin
  • Dash of Old Bay

*Adjust for heat. Start with less and add more to taste. This stuff can get spicy REAL quick!

DIRECTIONS

Pat shrimp dry and sprinkle lightly with salt. Mix together marinade and toss shrimp into it. Refrigerate shrimp and let marinade for about an hour.

This is the point when I usually open a Corona. While the shrimp is marinating, mix up your sauce and set it aside. If you want rice in your tacos, cook white rice; top with a little lime juice and cilantro when done. Get your toppings ready; chop lettuce if need be. Once the shrimp starts cooking, dinner is ready in no time!

Once shrimp is done marinating, either cook it right in the marinade on the stove or grill it. We usually cook it on the stove. Cook shrimp on medium heat until pink and opaque. This only takes about 4 minutes or so.

When the shrimp is done cooking, remove from heat. Top tortillas with rice, shrimp, lettuce, salsa, and then add the chipotle cream sauce on top.

This recipe typically makes about 4-6 tacos, depending whether or not you add rice and other fillers. The last time we made it, we added more rice, and I think we were able to even stretch it to 8 tacos.

If you’re looking for a light, refreshing dinner that goes particularly well with a Corona and lime, this is it. Summertime, and the livin’s easy, friends.

Weeknight Dinner Staple: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

roasted Brussels sprouts

I almost couldn’t bring myself to label a vegetable as a dinner staple. I was never much of a vegetable fan. I’m more of the “only eat your pile of peas to get your dessert” type. That was the rule in my house growing up; you had to eat all the vegetables on your plate. Usually I knew exactly how many there were, suffering and whining my way through all fifteen of those mushy peas, counting down one by one as I got closer to the finish. Eyes on the prize. No pain, no gain.

As a chocolate lover, it’s hard to admit, but I have to confess something. I tend to hit up the vegetables for a second helping now. I know…what! Well, wait, just kidding. I never go back for round two when it comes to peas. Not even firsts. I still hate peas, but maybe I’ll come around.

Roasted veggies changed my whole produce perspective. Asparagus, cauliflower, parsnips, and Brussels sprouts are a few of my favorite sides with dinner lately, all of which I could take or leave normally. But when roasted, give me all the veggies.

A little olive oil, salt, and pepper is all you need to whip up some tasty vegetables, my friends. Whatever else you add (ahem, garlic) can enhance the flavors, but these basics are enough to get you somethin’ good.

Here are the steps I follow for roasted Brussels sprouts. They can be thrown together in no time, making a quick, easy, and healthy side dish. Or hey, if you decide you only want to eat veggies for dinner, this is a judgement-free zone. But you should probably follow up with some ice cream, just sayin’.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt (we’ve been using freshly ground pink Himalayan salt lately, so good, but kosher or regular old iodized table salt will do just fine)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Panko breadcrumbs (optional)
  • Additional 2 teaspoons olive oil (optional, if you toast breadcrumbs)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F. Trim ends off Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. A lot of the leaves will fall off in the process. It’s up to you whether or not you want to use those. I use most of them; they crisp up and taste like a potato chip (sorta). Who doesn’t love chips?

Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat until almost simmering. Add Brussels sprouts to pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Don’t skimp on the salt and pepper for this one! Cook until Brussels sprouts are browned. I love how the Brussels sprouts come out when browned a bit before putting them into the oven to roast, but you can skip this step if you prefer not to use the extra pan. If you skip this step, you’ll need to increase your cook time in the oven.

If you want to add a little extra crunch, add panko breadcrumbs. I add them to the pan on the stove a few minutes before transferring the Brussels sprouts to a baking sheet to give them time to brown a bit. Alternatively, you can toast your breadcrumbs in a separate pan before adding them to the Brussels sprouts (a recommendation that I love from my Aunt Julie!). To do that, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a small pan. Add ¼ cup panko. Mix well and stir often until breadcrumbs are toasted, about 2-4 minutes. Then, add them to the Brussels sprouts in pan on stove and mix.

Once the Brussels sprouts are browned, transfer them to a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for about 20-25 minutes. I find that to be enough time, but if you like them extra roasted, keep ’em cooking.

This is the point when I usually start picking at the chips and eating them before they get to my plate.

Weeknight Dinner Staple: Greek Chicken Salad

greek chicken salad

Easy weeknight meals are essential for sanity, amiright? And when they’re healthy too, it’s really just a bonus and makes us 20-somethings feel like we’re doing the adult thing. (Though I’m trying harder and harder to be health-conscious.) I’m going to start sharing some painless recipes that are weeknight staples in our busy house. I’d love to hear your input—whether you think the recipes are too simple, love what I’m doing and can’t wait to try, don’t really care what I eat, etc. Let me know!

I’m starting with a very easy recipe that doesn’t require much active cooking time, Greek chicken salad.

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